Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Better Idea

The NFL has unveiled a new "system" of designing future Super Bowl logos: put no design into them whatsoever. Coverage from ESPN and a photo of the template as it applies to Super Bowl XLV can be found here.

As the Super Bowl will be hitting Indianapolis in February, 2012, I decided I wanted a better logo than the corporate-tastic silver blob the NFL is proposing.

#1, based on the flag of Indianapolis:

#2, reminiscent of the "Wing and Wheel" logo of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with some racing flag colors:

#3, subliminally reflects the logo of the host team, the Indianapolis Colts:

As the title of this post says, a better idea (or three).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Redskins Strike Again

After actually opening up their brains and realizing that maybe it wasn't a good idea to hire Terrell Owens, the ownership of the Washington Redskins has shut them back in the safe and is flapping about again like a bunch of fools.

The latest grand idea from the Redskins' brass is to take a long, hard look at Denver Broncos resident troublemaker, Jay Cutler. I can understand why they might possibly take a look at Cutler, of course. He's a pretty damn good quarterback, and he's shown his ability in college and at times in the pros. In Washington, everyone is trying to figure out if Jason Campbell is ever going to figure out how to do...whatever it is coach Jim Zorn is thinking of.

However, let's take a look at the current off-season. For reasons beyond comprehension, the Broncos fired Mike Shanahan (who wears two Super Bowl rings, mind) and replaced him, let me look up his name...Josh McDaniels. If it had all ended at that, the story of the off-season would be the incompetence of the Broncos' leadership.

But no, Jay Cutler had to then open up and share his feeling with the world -- maily the feeling that he absolutely did not want to work with Coach McDaniels.

(Side Note: I'm kinda tired of my bosses. I think I'm going to make them and all of my co-workers hate me, then ask them to send me to an employer of my choosing with no penalty to myself...yeah, I think that'll work.)

Instead of trying his best to work with his new, young coach and try what he can to lead his team during this transition period, Cutler decided that he was going to just quit on the them. He would rather move to another team with coaches he likes in order to serve his own selfish interests.

Where have I hear of someone like this before...oh yeah, it was the other guy that was rumored to be considered for a spot in Washington: Terrell Owens. I don't know if it's his age, or the fact that it's only happened once, or the fact that he's white (don't try to deny it, there has to be something to it), or even the fact that his hometown has the quaint name of Santa Claus, IN. Whatever the case, Cutler is not being accosted by the media in nearly the same way that Owens has been.

I don't care how much pressure is being put on Snyder and Cerrato to fix the situation at quarterback and how many people think Jason Campbell is the worst thing to happen to the Redskins since...the guy he replaced. I didn't want T.O. around to destroy the team, and I don't want Cutler to do the same.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why, Oh Wildcats?

A couple of years ago, Mitch Barnhart, who probably uses five seconds per move in a chess game, uses a 3-wood for a 90-yard fairway shot, swings at every pitch on a baseball diamond, reads Cliff's Notes instead of whole books, and, most importantly, runs Kentucky's athletics program, decided to "persuade to resign" basketball coach Tubby Smith on account of the fact that he was...I don't know, a good coach? When it was done, though I disagreed with it, I suggested they make a hire that required some actual thought: then-Butler coach Todd Lickliter. Predictably, Barnhart freaked out when he couldn't get his pie-in-the-sky dream pick, Florida's double-champion coach Billy Donovan, so he just hired the first guy who would say yes to the job offer.

Now, Billy Gillespie is out of his job with the Wildcats because UK didn't bother to properly research him before hiring him, and Barnhart's knee-jerk hire bit back. So naturally, after learning from his mistake, Barnhart has decided to sit down with some names, run them past some trustees and other university officials, get together with them in some secret conference room, go over the pluses and minuses of each candidate, then pick the best one based on the merits discussed in that secret conference room.

Oh wait, did I say that? What I actually meant to say was: about five minutes after some news cameramen chased Billie Gillespie out of UK's athletic offices, Memphis' John Calipari was all-but-hired, according to numerous media sources.

I'll get to back to Barnhart, but I wouldn't mind having a look at Calipari first. Players on his teams either struggle mightily for their 2.0 GPA or they simply do not graduate. Players on his teams are known for not being the greatest of role models, with locker room fights and off-the-court issues at both Massachusetts and Memphis. Calipari himself has come under suspicion with the NCAA Infractions Committee more than once, most notably when his 1996 Tournament run with UMass was stricken from the records. Plus, he's the only coach I know of who has received, in person, a death threat from another coach ( Oh, and that little blowup was because Coach Chaney thought Coach Cal was intimidating the referees a little too much, changing the outcome of the game.

I'm an Indiana fan, so let me tell you something about hiring coaches who don't graduate players, have problems on and off the court, and are disrespected by more people than respect them: it's generally not a good idea. Indiana tried it a couple years ago and, while the win-at-all-costs attitude worked for a year and a half, the fans got a little testy when the NCAA came knocking. Now our program has been blown to smithereens and we were lucky to pick up the coach that we got, because many people thought no coach in his right mind would want this mess.

Because of his shortcomings, the fact that his players don't fit the mold of "student-athlete" at all, and the fact that he got so much credit for Memphis' 30-win seasons when they played in a joke conference, I really do not like John Calipari as a coach and, especially now that my school has been beat down by a similar, win-at-all-costs coach who bends the rules, I cannot give Kentucky a shred of respect for what they've done.

As for Barnhart, the worst part is that he's almost obligated to do dumb things like this because he has to appease the most ridiculous college basketball fan base on the planet. It's not a hundred percent clear if Barnhart actually wanted to send Tubby Smith packing two years ago, but he didn't have to do it. Tubby Smith was a very sound coach who had the right mix of mean and nice to make a basketball team do whatever he wanted. The problem was that the fan base was living in the past and hoping Tubby could deliver them fifty more championships and make UK Basketball the way it was in the good ol' days (y'know...when UCLA beat them every year and they were beat by Texas Western...oops, I guess they forgot about that part of UK history). But, for heavens sake, put some thought into what you do, Mitch. Indiana's athletic director got dragged through the mud for making one bad decision; I think Barnhart has made his third bad decision in three years. The fans at Kentucky are starting to get restless, and Barnhart had to make another ridiculous decision to try and appease them.

Now, UK is harboring a convicted cheater, Barnhart is, I'm sure, writing up some gushing words about a "new era of Kentucky Basketball" (perhaps borrowing some words from his introduction of Gillespie), and the fans are going to eat it all up again. Sure, it's all about winning at Kentucky -- it's the same way here at Indiana. But you have to win with class, and UK is on the right track to make enemies out of a lot of people.

Two years ago, I respected Kentucky basketball, their tradition, and their class-act of a coach. Tonight, I can't wait for the second Saturday in December, when Calipari brings his freak show into Assembly Hall and I can hate on him in person.

Of note: Tubby Smith's Minnesota Golden Gophers fought through the deepest Big Ten in recent memory, earned a 10-seed in the Tournament, and played hard in a tough loss against Texas. Kentucky fans, befuddled by an odd acronym of ancient legend called "N.I.T.", watched their their team stumble through a loss at Notre Dame and their coach stumble out the door again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Just Say "NO" to T.O.!

There have certainly been some bad thoughts that came into my head when the Terrell Owens-booted-from-Dallas saga started late last night. First, the morons who run the Cowboys (even if I weren't a Redskins fan, I would consider Jerry Jones a moron)seem to have found a small amount of brain matter between them, which means they might do more smart things in the near future. Second, one of my best reasons for hating the Cowboys is now gone.

But the worst thought that came to mind was this: Terrell Owens is on the market. Now, I know this conversation is probably happening at every newspaper in every NFL market in the country, but the idea has been pitched that the Washington Redskins could take a look at Owens. In nearly all of the other NFL markets, GMs would certainly write off Owens as a liability and not even bother with him. However, Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato are just dumb enough to look at these media reports and say, "Hmm...big-time wide receiver, jersey sales, ticket sales, dollar signs, etc."

I make this declaration, with the internet as my witness:

If the Redskins sign Terrell Owens, I swear upon every religious deity that has ever been in the history of this planet and any other with intelligent life that I will shun the Redskins for as long a Snyder and Cerrato are part of the organization.

In 2000, I got fed up with being a fan of the Baltimore Orioles because Peter Angelos came in and imploded the base that had made them a successful team in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Three years earlier, the Orioles had been within two games of going to the World Series and Camden Yards sold out every game for about 5 years. By the turn of the millennium, the Orioles had become the joke that they still are today and I look upon the seas of empty seats at Camden Yards and remember the killer atmosphere at the 1997 ALCS, and remember who it was that brought that team down. To make matters worse, when the Nationals have moved to my real hometown, Angelos went out of his way to first block the move, then screw money out of the team on a bogus TV deal.

Back on the Redskins: I never did like the current ownership group. When they signed Deion Sanders for a one-year debacle, it became apparent that they were willing to throw any amount of money at a whim that would sell tickets and give them more money. When Marty Schottenheimer, who led the team to an 8-8 season after the messy firing of Norv Turner and the mistreatment of Terry Robiskie, butted heads with them over personnel decisions, it was apparent that they wouldn't listen to any coach who actually knew what a team needed to succeed. Then they hired Steve Spurrier from Florida for no real reason and for a ludicrous amount of money and it was apparent that they were just dumb.

Sure, they had the Joe Gibbs return, and that was mildly successful. But that's because Gibbs probably made Snyder get down on his knees and make promises about giving Gibbs full control and beg Gibbs to join the team. Even then, it's hard to know just how much control Gibbs actually had behind closed doors, and there were still big, splashy, and questionable personnel decisions made that didn't pan out all that well (Brandon Lloyd, anyone?)

So now we move to today -- or rather, late last night. Terrell Owens was released from a team that prides itself on being the home of ridiculous personalities. Jerry Jones is one of the most egotistical owners in all of sports and makes some of the silliest decisions in the name of selling tickets. He hired Jimmy Johnson, whose best contribution to college football was ruining the reputation of Miami Football that Howard Schnellenberger worked so hard to build, and was the complete personalty opposite of stoic, businesslike Tom Landry. Jones dropped Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders into his roster in order, I guess, to make sure there was a ridiculous personality on the field at all times. Renowned angry old man Barry Switzer replaced Jimmy Johnson and, after winning a Super Bowl with Johnson's team, saw his team and his mind seem to fall apart. After some mediocrity, another angry old man, Bill Parcells, was installed as coach, with dirty player Roy Williams at safety and Keyshawn "Gimme The Damn Ball" Johnson at wideout. Jones then decided that Owens, who had spent the last five years tearing apart the 49ers and Eagles, should be thrown into the mix with a coach that takes no crap. Then Drew Bledsoe, well-respected and well-rounded QB extraordinaire, was replaced by a pretty boy for the second time in his career. Said pretty boy Tony Romo's biggest contributions to the team so far were dropping that snap in that playoff game against Seattle and dropping Carrie Underwood and Jessica Simpson, among others, into his bed. Then Jerry decided that his players weren't tough enough, so he would raid a couple of prisons for players and came up with Tank "Firearm Possession" Johnson and PacMan "Make It Rain" Jones.

So, an ownership group that has a history of hiring these stellar human beings apparently couldn't take the stress of having Terrell Owens on the squad.

Plus, T.O. is one of only a very few NFL players that I have absolutely no respect for. He's an overrated egotist who, after making one catch to win a game in San Fransisco, thought he was the greatest thing that ever happened to the game.

If veterans Jeff Garcia, Donovan MacNabb, Andy Reid, Steve Mariucci, and Bill Parcells couldn't handle T.O., how on Earth are a second year coach (Jim Zorn) and a young, inconsistent QB (Jason Campbell) going to handle him. Besides which, what's going to happen with Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El, James Thrash, and Devin Thomas? If T.O. is on your roster, he IS your wide receiver. Nobody else.


I don't feel like parting with my Darrell Green jersey just yet.

Update! According to Jason Reid and Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post, the Redskins say the cost of signing Owens and the cost to team cohesion are not worth any wins he may or may not add to the team's record.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hey Mike Brown....Shut Up!

Here's a neat little fact that some folks (especially those from Cleveland) don't seem to understand: LeBron James is just another basketball player in the eyes of the officials.

For the second time this season, a last-second call against LeBron affected the outcome of a game against one of my favorite NBA teams. Both times, someone affiliated with the Cavs went on a stupid, immature tirade about how this shouldn't be called or that shouldn't be called.

Against the Wizards earlier in the season, we had the famous "crab dribble", which was a patented NBA travel that an official actually decided to call. Sure, it was inconsistent with the lack of travels called in the rest of the Association, but if you count the steps, it fits the definition of a travel. LeBron's reaction: It was a "crab dribble", something he does all the time and has never been called, and why would anyone call him for a travel when he's the face of the NBA?

Fast-forward to last night. First, there's a foul called against the Pacers' Danny Granger that was extremely questionable. Granger jumped in front of LeBron, poked the ball away, but also hit LeBron's arm. Result of the play: foul, two made freebies for LeBron. About half a second later, LeBron got called for the exact same foul on an inbound to Granger. He jumped for the ball and backed into Granger as the ball came in. Result of the play: foul, one made free throw, Pacers win. Cavs' coach Mike Brown's reaction:

"I went back and I watched the last two plays and that last call on LeBron was the worst call I've ever been a part of. I cannot imagine another worse call than that by that official. It was an awful call and for him to take away a basketball game from a team with 0.4 seconds on the clock is irresponsible. That is an irresponsible call. It was predetermined from the call that was made on the other end of the floor and it was very unfortunate because there were a lot of men out on the floor that were working their (expletive) off to try to win the ball game. We got that game taken away from us on a horse...excuse my French...horsecrap call with 0.2 seconds left on the clock by that official. Absolutely horrible. I feel bad for the guys in the locker room. You can can can not predetermine a call to try to make something up for the other end of the floor. I saw it. It was a foul down there with 0.4 second. Down here, it was not. LeBron was in between his man and the basket. He went up in the air when the ball was tipped. And for that official to predetermine his call was awful. It was awful. That why we lost the game. I never blame the officials. But that call was a predetermined call and he should have swallowed his whistle on it. But he did not. It was a make up call. Make up. It was a foul. LeBron went up into the air. Danny jumped into him. It's a foul. For him to predetermine the call at our end of the floor...the ball had no chance of getting to Danny Granger. None whatsoever. None. It's two guys jumping into the air. And for him to predetermine that call at that point in the game was horsecrap. That was step in and use your whistle in that instance and have the power to determine the outcome of the basketball game at that time when it was no where near a foul. It should have been a no call. It's a no call. You have two men jumping straight up in the air on a bad pass. We played OK. We played well enough to give ourselves an opportunity. I don't know what would have happened in overtime. It wasn't like we were playing great. But that game should have gone into overtime until the official stepped in and made a call that was predetermined from the other end of the floor. I don't care if I get fined. It is what it is. I saw the two plays. It was a bad call. He determined the outcome of the game. If they want to fine me for telling the truth, they can fine me for telling the truth. This is not me. I never do this. If I didn't see what I saw on the tape and live, I wouldn't say anything. I'd swallow it. I'd tell our guys, 'Hey we didn't play well enough.' We didn't play particularly well. But that was a bad call that was predetermined that determined the outcome of the game. Simple as that. They can fine me for this crap. I don't care."

Pacers coach Jim O'Brien got it right, though. He said that both calls were "consistent". Indeed, Granger was called for a foul that no one liked, and LeBron was called for the exact same foul at the other end. Mike Brown and the entire Cavaliers organization and fan base needs to realize that, while LeBron is indeed the face of the league, he is not immune from foul calls. LeBron committed a foul on an inbound pass to decide the game, and he was rightly called for it.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's A Sport, Damnit!

An old friend has descended on Bloomington. Something that hasn't been seen in this town since the mid-90s. A spectacle that has involved months of rigorous training from hundreds of young men and women. A sport, played between the lines of America's (and Canada's) football stadiums, where injury and fatigue are a real part of the danger. One of the most difficult things a human being can bring themselves to do: Drum and Bugle Corps.

Yes sir, the DCI World Championships rolled its way into town this afternoon and has serenaded the north side of Bloomington with beautiful music and the sound of raucous cheering for the last 7 or so hours.

Oh, and tonight was just the quarterfinals. Tomorrow, for the semifinals, the crowds get even bigger and the competition gets even tougher. Then the crowds become bigger still (close to 30,000, I would guess) for Saturday evening's World Class Finals: the show where the best marching music ensemble in the world will be crowned.

By the way, you may have notice my mention of the word "sport". Yeah, I stand by it, and I'll be damned if you tell me otherwise.

See, for those of you uninitiated to this particular activity, you should really try to experience it somehow -- there are plenty of videos on YouTube if you don't have to opportunity to make it to a show. These groups, generally about 100 members-strong, come together in late May after a rather grueling audition process, live as a group, train outside for eight-to-twelve hours a day, and go perform their art in front of thousands two or three times a week. They travel on buses across the nation for about ten weeks, entertaining crowds from Allentown, PA, to Pasadena, CA, without taking any breaks from their training. There are people who enter the May camps weighing 275 pounds and come out in August weighing 200.

That sounds kinda like a sport to me.

Plus, lets look at football players. Football players do similar training, but their sport involves standing around for 30 seconds, running into each other for 6 seconds, then standing around for another 30 seconds. Baseball players? Some of those guys hardly count as athletes. Basketball? Okay, they're athletic, but they don't have to deal with 95-degree heat and beating sunshine.

These drum corps kids (and they are kids, really -- the ages allowed by DCI rules are 14-21 years-old) have to learn how to coordinate their legs, their feet, their upper bodies, and their arms, all while playing a musical instrument (some of which can weigh up to 50 pounds). That means they also have to control their breathing in order to get the best sound possible out of the instrument. They also have to move in such a way that the concussion of their feet hitting the ground doesn't translate up to the instrument and hamper the sound (try humming while jumping up and down, and you'll get the idea of what they're trying to avoid). It requires a level of coordination and fluidity that many dancers would be jealous of.

I almost forgot: they don't get paid. In fact, they have to pay roughly $2,000 per member just to keep the corps running. They do this not for the money, but because they love what they do.

Don't tell me I'm just mindlessly defending this stuff without really knowing either. I tried three times to get into one of these World Class drum corps and failed. Just watch a video on YouTube, and you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Victim of Circumstance

Well, it's finally over. The cleansing of Indiana University's men's basketball program is complete with the resignation of Athletic Director Rick Greenspan, which will become effective on January 1, 2009. This comes in light of a new charge from the NCAA Infractions Committee which falls under the "Failure to Monitor" banner, referring to the fact that Kelvin Sampson managed to break the rules while under previous sanction. Greenspan decided that, since this charge was leveled directly at the Athletic Department and that will direct the fan base's ire directly at him, it would be best for him to cut his losses and leave. I find all of this rather unfortunate, and I have two points that I'd like to make.

First of all, for those who actually like to look at things rationally, it is very obvious that Rick Greenspan was the victim of circumstance. Kelvin Sampson is a pathological liar, and any pathological liar can pathologically lie their way into anything. Since he is so good at lying, he was able to put on a straight face when he told Greenspan and the entire IU fan base that he wouldn't break the rules ever again. In the back of his mind, he was already planning how he would try to stretch the rules in order to bring in the big-name recruits.

If you are a good enough liar, you could go into any sort of job interview and, no matter what you might've done in the past, you can weasel your way out of any interrogation. Some of these people who immediately wanted Greenspan's head on a pike are owners of businesses who probably don't realize just how many liars they have hired in their time. I can guarantee you that every manager of every business in the world has had to deal with one, but they didn't know it because of how talented the liar was. Even Bob Kravitz, who obviously thinks himself the last bastion of commen sense in the world, despite spewing crap out of his pen for many years, probably has someone on the staff with him who has lied about something major.

My second point is that it seems awfully late for the NCAA to be coming up with new charges against IU. I know the NCAA is allowed to throw charges around whenever they want, but why would they wait until now to throw this one at IU? All of the evidence of "Failure to Monitor" was there before the IU delegation went to Seattle to defend the program. What possible evidence was there that might have come out in Seattle that would have suddenly made the NCAA throw more charges? It seems like the NCAA is going above and beyond to try and knock down the IU program for one reason or another.

Plus, why in the name of all that's good in the world is the NCAA concerned about this absurdly petty phone call scandal when there are some schools that have been accused of providing cash benefits to their recruits? Did I mention that the school in question has one of the most successful football programs ever? Or that this school also has an up-and-coming basketball program who has been knocking on the door at the tournament in recent years? No, the NCAA isn't worried about the idea of a program destroying the spirit of amatuerism. They're too busy making sure the phone bill doesn't run too high.

Honestly, I've tried to not hate Myles Brand, who is universally hated in Bloomington, but It's hard to keep defending him and his organization when they continuously try to throw Indiana under the bus. There is no reason to retroactively throw these charges at Indiana, and NCAA should re-evaluate how their infractions committee works.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

As A Follow-Up...

Yesterday, I touched on the subject of Scott Kalitta and what can be done about drag racing. First off, an interesting and absurdly simple solution to the problem of outdated drag strips from's Gregg Leary here. Read his argument and try to tell me that's a bad idea.

Second, I didn't get a chance to go over some of the reasons that death in motorsport has become, ultimately, a good thing for the drivers and spectators who live on. I know that's a tough thing to say, but driver deaths lead to better safety for everyone involved.

I'm going to take a look at some major incidents over the years and talk about how those incidents shaped the racing safety community.

Le Mans, 1955
One of the most horrific moments in the history of auto racing only led to the death of one driver, but Pierre Levegh's Mercedes-Benz flew in a fireball into a spectator area, showering it with flaming fuel and debris. All told, Levegh and 82 spectators were killed in the incident. Though sparked by the slowing Jaguar of Mike Hawthorn, officials decided that the fatalities were due more in part to the lack of safety standards at Le Mans, and effort was put into making the bleachers along the pit straight, an extremely fast part of the track at that time, safer for everyone.

Indianapolis, 1964
Though many people had died competing in the Indianapolis 500, the incident on Lap 2 of the 1964 race was one of the most spectacular, and changed the way Indy Cars were powered forever. Coming out of Turn 4, Dave McDonald's highly unstable "Skateboard" car broke loose and struck the inside wall. The impact ruptured McDonald's fuel tank and sparked a massive fuel explosion. Eddie Sachs, one of the most popular drivers in the race, hit the stricken car and was caught up in the fire as well. McDonald and Sachs both perished due to the burns they suffered. Because a gasoline fire was so difficult to extinguish, it was decided that, if the flames had been put out sooner, one or both of the drivers might have been saved. As such, Indy Cars switched over to alcohol fuel, whose flames can be extinguished by a simple bucket of water.

Hockenheim, 1968
The world lost one of its greatest racers at this Formula 2 race in 1968, and the results if the incident led to the first emasculation of one of Germany's great racetracks. Jim Clark, heading on the long blast between the Stadion and Ostkurve sections of the Hockenheimring, lost control of his car and spun into the deep forest on the side of the track. The collision with a tree fractured his neck and skull, leading to his death. It was decided that the track, renowned for its two gigantic straights that led deep into the forest, needed to have some sort of modification to slow the cars. The chosen modifications were a series of chicanes that broke up the long blasts. In 2002, the track was, as some purists would say, "neutered," to curb the high speeds of Formula One cars and allow greater opportunities for passing.

Indianapolis, 1973
For a very long time at Indianapolis, a concrete wall came from far inside of Turn 4, at an angle, to the inside edge of the front straightaway. During the 1973 500-mile race, Swede Savage, a rookie pegged by many to become a great champion, lost control of his car off of the fourth turn and hit that angled wall at great speed. His car shattered on impact, and Savage died in the hospital later on. The Speedway's management decided that, in order to lessen the chance of another such impact, they would move that wall back away from the track. Now, even if a car should spin in a similar fashion off of Turn 4, it will be able to lose a lot of speed spinning across the asphalt.

Nürburgring, 1976
Though this accident did not take a life, it very nearly did and it provided the impetus for one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. Despite concerns about the safety of the mighty, 14-mile Nürburgring, the 1976 German Grand Prix went on as scheduled. Coming through the quick section between Breidscheid and Bergwerk, Niki Lauda's Ferrari lost control and slammed into the side of a hill next to the track. The burns that Lauda suffered were considered by many to be fatal, but they were minimized by the fact that three of Lauda's fellow drivers stopped their cars to help Lauda out of his. This led to near-universal criticism of the Nürburgring's safety and the ability of safety crews to reach accidents on the massive course. Sadly, the track was closed to Formula One after that, but the new track in Nürburg is much more conducive to safety crews and fans alike.

Talladega, 1987
Due to their immense size and tall banking, Daytona and Talladega became synonymous with high speed among NASCAR fans. Unfortunately, even though the cars were very heavy, NASCAR stock cars were susceptible to taking flight if something went wrong at these tracks. As such, when Bobby Allison's car blew a tire, it took off directly towards the grandstands. Thankfully, the track's catch fence managed to hold the car inside the track and prevent a catastrophe that could have killed NASCAR. Still, NASCAR's officials decided that the cars needed to be slowed. As such, they placed restrictor plates on the car's air intakes to reduce horsepower at Daytona and Talladega. Instead of killing the racing, the plates actually evened up the racing and has produced some of the most exciting events in NASCAR.

Imola, 1994
Probably the blackest weekend in Formula One history ended with the reprofiling of one of Formula One's favorite tracks. The first incident involved Rubens Barrichello, whose car was launched off a curb into a tire barrier, knocking Barrichello unconscious. The second incident took the life of Roland Ratzenberger, who took the fast Villneuve turn incorrectly and slammed into the outside wall. The third incident took the life of one of Formula One's most popular driver's ever, Ayrton Senna, whose car broke in the ultra-quick Tamburello corner and speared the outside wall hard. Because of Barichello's accident, the curbs were lowered all around the Imola track and at tracks around the world. The deaths of Ratzenberger and Senna led to the installation of chicanes and sand traps at those two turns to slow the cars and protect them from impacts.

Indianapolis, The '90s
As cars began averaging 230 miles per hour around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the severity of accidents went up by leaps and bounds. If you hit the wall at Indianapolis, there was always the possibility of severe injury. In 1992, Jovy Marcelo was killed in practice, Nelson Piquet was seriously injured in practice, and Jeff Andretti was seriously injured during the race itself. In 1995, Stan Fox's car was torn in half when it nosed into the wall on the first lap and Fox went into a Coma. In 1996, Polesitter Scott Brayton was killed when his car hit the wall during practice. Eventually, Speedway management decided enough was enough, and they began working with the University of Nebraska on one of the greatest safety innovations in all of racing, the SAFER Barrier. Installed at Indianapolis before the 2000 race and at nearly every major oval track in the world since then, the SAFER Barrier has saved countless injuries, and probably more than a few lives.

Fontana, 1999
Greg Moore was a popular driver in the CART Championship Series and was probably a favorite to follow fellow Canadian Jacques Villneuve to Formula One. Unfortunately, after losing control of his car coming off of Turn 2 at California Speedway, his car sped towards the inside of the track and hit the angled wall at one of the safety truck entrances. The car exploded into pieces on impact and Moore was fatally injured. Two things came of this: first, the walls at the safety truck entrances were reprofiled to minimize the likelihood of such an impact; second, the inside of the first half of the back straightaway was paved with asphalt because a spinning car would lose more speed on asphalt than on grass.

Daytona, 2001
Probably the darkest day in NASCAR led to yet another of the greatest safety innovations in all of racing. On the last lap of the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt moved up the track and made contact with Sterling Marlin's car, spinning Earnhardt head-first into the concrete outside wall. On impact, Earnhardt's head apparently snapped forward and he may have hit his head on the steering wheel. Because whiplash may have caused Earnhardt's death, NASCAR (and many other racing series) mandated the use of the Head And Neck Safety (HANS) Device. The device was a simple shoulder brace that, in the event of an impact, kept the driver's head from moving forward beyond a certain angle, but it has virtually eliminated the broken neck or basal skull fracture as a cause of death in a racing accident. Also, the SAFER Barrier became a mainstay at every track on the NASCAR circuit to lessen the G-forces on impact with a wall.

Well, there you are. Safety in racing, unfortunately, is a product of injury and fatality. We generally don't see the problems with safety until they make themselves painfully obvious. Hopefully, the strides we've made will help minimize the risks these drivers will face as we head into the sport's future.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Ugly Side of Racing

Auto racing, as with many sports, can be a beautiful thing when played to perfection. Watching 20 Formula One cars take a standing start, or 33 Indy Cars accelerating out of turn 4 at Indianapolis, or a single rally car jumping a dirt hill on a narrow forest road, or 43 NASCAR stock cars going as one mass through the turns at Talladega, or watching a team celebrate at Le Mans after a grueling 24 hours of competition can elicit an emotional response that few other things can. However, as with all sports, racing can become ugly. In fact, when auto racing goes wrong, the consequences tend to be far more dire than for any other sport.

Saturday afternoon, we were once again reminded how dangerous the sport can be. NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta, 26-year veteran of NHRA competition, met his end at the wheel of his machine. As with many of the folks who plant themselves in the tight cockpits of NHRA drag racers, Kalitta went out the way he would have probably preferred: 300 miles per hour in a ball of flame. Many of these NHRA stars are tough competitors and proud human beings, and if they have to go early, they'd rather do it on the job.

Unfortunately, that does not take the sting away for the fans, the fellow crews and drivers, or the driver's family. That sting, after the initial shock of the accident abates, will eventually turn into a discussion on how to fix the problem and learn from the death of a driver.

So, how do we fix the problem? Well, for those of you who are not familiar with Old Bridge Township Raceway, it is in a highly developed part of New Jersey. Englishtown is not far off the New Jersey Turnpike, relatively close to Newark and New York City. Because of this, there is really no opportunity for the track owners to expand the sand trap at the end of the drag strip to better stop a wayward automobile. Unfortunately, this problem exists with many drag racing facilities and the only feasible option may be to simply close facilities like the Englishtown track -- a move that would not thrill traditional fans of the sport.

The other option is to try and slow the cars down, which is also a difficult problem to try and figure out. The only auto racing genre that has successfully capped the speeds of the cars at a reasonable level is IndyCar racing, and that is because they only have one engine supplier and one chassis supplier. Drag racing is all about who can build the better engine and which driver can apply every bit of power in that engine. Typical funny car speeds at the quarter mile exceed 310 mph, and any time the NHRA tries to lower speeds, the engineers find another way to get their speed up.

There is an option C, but it will make observers on the outside question the logic of the sport: do nothing. Many of the hardcore fans and a lot of the drivers accept that death is a possibility in a sport like this and the only reason they still participate is because they've accepted that fact. The lure of the sport for the regular fans is the speed of the cars through the quarter mile. Trying to close tracks or change the cars may help the sport in the end, but the NHRA could alienate its base.

The worst part of the whole thing is that, even if they solve the problem that took Scott Kalitta's life, there is always another problem that hasn't been thought of that might pop up to take someone else. It's all a part of the sport that can be so beautiful, but finds a way to be ugly at the worst possible time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pure Speculation...

There are many things to theorize, speculate, or claim to know about here in Bloomington right now. IU's athletic administration has run off to Seattle to hear the NCAA's opinion of Kelvin Sampson's shenanigans, the basketball team is trying its damnedest to get recruits so they're not terrible in the coming season, and football season is nearly upon us.

However, the most important thing to me is why...WHY on Earth the field at Memorial Stadium performed so horribly during last week's rainstorms (striking photography seen in the last post). For some background, there were a total of four rather major thunderstorms over a two-day period last week. The first three were standard, summer-in-the-Midwest thunderstorms with lots of wind and noise and the occasional tornado siren. The fourth, however, was a pure rain-maker; it dumped tons of rain upon Bloomington, overwhelming city's drainage system an causing nasty flooding on IU's campus and in downtown Bloomington. As stated below, the rain also had a nasty effect on the turf at Memorial Stadium.

Now, at first I was thinking, "There were four storms over two days, and the sheer volume of rain just washed away the soil underneath the turf." Then I happened to be watching a replay of IU's victory over Purdue on November 17, 2007, and it dawned on me: the final play at the south end of the stadium caused the problem.

See, Austin Starr is certain to go into Hoosier legend as one of the best men to ever kick a football through the uprights. Some people, though, don't realize just how good he is. Look at the photo in the previous post, then find a video of Austin Starr's winning field goal in the Bucket game. Notice anything?


Yes, the sheer force of that amazing kick striking the turf just past the crossbar in the south endzone must have rearranged the dirt underneath the turf in such a way that, when weather of any consequence struck the stadium, the whole thing fell apart. There you have it.

One might say, "This is terrible! Something must be done!" While it may be an annoyance, though, I'll let Austin Starr break football fields all he wants, as long as the Hoosiers keep winning.